Lights, Camera, (and perhaps a solution to Michigan’s job market)
After losing my job of 18 years as a bluecollar worker when the Ann Arbor News shut down in July 2009, I spent some time on Michigan’s unemployment roster.
Fortunately, I enrolled at Washtenaw Community College as a full-time journalism student, which changed my life.
Michigan’s job market hasn’t shown much hope for me. I found part-time work, including a job with The Voice. But thanks to WCC’s Student Activities Department, I recently had an opportunity of a lifetime. When a talent company located in Southfield put out a last-minute call this summer for WCC students in need of work, I got a temporary job as an extra on the set of a movie named “AWOL.”
The movie’s plot takes place during the Vietnam War and revolves around Ann Arbor during its anti-war protests in 1969.
I took part in some of the riot scenes filmed in downtown Ypsilanti. They shot scenes in Ann Arbor, but for three nights the movie company made two blocks in Ypsilanti look like Ann Arbor.
I spent one 12-hour shift in a crowd of hippies yelling “Go Home Pigs!” and throwing fake rocks and bricks at the movie police when they arrived to break up the protest.
The hair and make-up crew had me looking like an authentic 1969 hippie. It was easy to accomplish; I have long hair, but wear it in a ponytail. I had it untied and flowing out from under a purple bandana. It scared me to look in the mirror.
My fellow “extras” and set-workers couldn’t agree if I looked more like Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia or legendary comic Sam Kinison. I say Kinison, but it didn’t matter. They paid me to have fun, and I had the unique experience of working on a professional movie set.
I’m thankful for the movie industry’s presence in Michigan and the work, while I study at WCC and Wayne State University in hopes of becoming a world-class journalist.
Michigan’s movie industry faced an uncertain future not too long ago. Gov. Rick Snyder once said the vast tax-breaks given to the movie industry cost the state more money than its presence generated.
His original plan involved eliminating the tax breaks, which would spell disaster for Michigan’s aspiring film, drama and communications students.
Until I had the chance to appear as a paid extra on the set of “AWOL,” I’m sorry to admit, I agreed with Snyder’s take on the movie industry. Thankfully, he scaled back his plan, and Michigan students have some chance of working locally to hone their talents close to home. But more incentives should exist to keep the industry and the creative people it needs in Michigan.
Although out-of-state film crews and actors descend on Michigan to produce movies, many Michigan residents like me work as extras and production workers on the sets of movies such as “AWOL.”
Local businesses such as catering services, hotels, gas stations and restaurants also benefit from the industry’s presence. And talent companies, like the one that called me, now exist and find jobs for local residents to spend paychecks in Michigan.
If the government has to provide tax breaks to lure in jobs for its people, then so be it. High corporate taxes mean no incentive to re-locate and invest in the community. Unemployed or underemployed residents remain subservient and restless due to insufficient government handouts. A working population makes people self-sufficient and empowers the region.
After witnessing first-hand the benefits of Michigan’s new “manufacturing trade,” I recognize its full potential and respectfully suggest a solution to the economic crisis facing Detroit and the entire state: sell or donate Detroit’s abandoned property to the movie industry to reduce the administrative burden on the taxpayer.
Movie companies could turn the abandoned property into state-of-the-art, income-producing movie studios. Detroit’s architectural diversity has excellent back-lot and sound stage potential, and the state could officially rename the newly developed area New Hollywood.
Crime rates in Detroit should also drop, because the new job prospects will revitalize the surrounding communities. It will also keep those longhaired hippie leftovers from wandering around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti by giving them movie work in Detroit.
I’m on the list.